The Harsh Reality of Vet Med

As I look back over the past few months, I am reminded of so many happy, successful moments that involved my patients and their families.  From giving good news that a tumor was benign, to helping a lost pet get back home due to the simple power of a microchip, and treating a little miracle kitty who ate a string and lost 70% of her intestine getting to go home and live a happy life.  These are the moments and the days I treasure and live for in my career as a veterinarian.

But sadly, the job isn’t always puppies and kittens or success stories.  It’s challenging at times to not become emotionally invested in our patients especially the ones we see fairly often if they have a current illness or chronic health problem.  Some of these patients are ones we can be completely confounded by.  Understandably, a pet not getting well is taxing on their family but it has a similar yet less devastating effect on the veterinary team.

Sometimes we will recommend you visit a specialist due to procedures being beyond the skills of a general practitioner.  Face it, there’s just some things they don’t teach you in the 4 years of veterinary school.  Other times, it’s the value of that specialized second opinion and a lot of the time they can help.

For Better or Worse

We (the vet team) try our best; nobody is perfect.  Some patients will keep us awake at night as we mull over what we should do next or contemplate the impending surgery the next day.  In the worst of cases after a few months or longer of dealing with a chronic illness, all we can do is help ease them of their suffering.  It’s in these moments that we realize it’s not possible to fix every problem or save every patient, no matter how hard we try.

This was the case with Maggie.  A very sweet dog, with an even sweeter owner.  Maggie was adopted with known problems that her family diligently addressed and more so if new ones appeared.  Maggie was a patient of mine for almost 3 years and her skin was the biggest issue that nobody was ever able to figure out.  This past fall Maggie developed cancer and combined with her other issues, it was time to say goodbye.  I hated that we couldn’t help her.

harsh reality of vet med

One of my last visits with Maggie

And so it goes, we have to pick up the pieces because there are more pets that need help.  In all this though, we take the experience and information we learned from one pet and, perhaps years later, remember the lessons they taught us to hopefully help another.

Disclaimer: Blog posts may contain some opinions which are my own and may not reflect those of any current or former employers. 

Don’t forget to follow along on Instagram @drryanllera , Facebook , or  Twitter for more pet info.

Pet Cancer – What You Need to Know

pet cancer spaying could have prevented this ovarian tumorEven though November is Pet Cancer Awareness Month, there’s never a bad time to talk about it.  It’s a sad part of any type of medicine and more so when we’re talking about animals.  They can’t tell us how they feel, they don’t have socialized health care, and they can’t take themselves to the veterinarian.

I’ve seen enough cancer cases that it breaks my heart each time, even more so when it could have been addressed early on and prevented more of a challenge to the pet and veterinary team along with costing less.  In many cases, these pets are often euthanized because it’s just gone too far.  In general practice, on average I’d say I see about 1 malignant cancer case every 3-4 weeks.  Malignant equals bad; but sometimes even those benign masses can be problematic.  And yes, sometimes those benign masses can morph into a malignant mass.

Why is this happening?

Pets are living longer, plain and simple.  And while some people are aware of what to look for, we can do better.

What can we do?

pet cancer mammary mass

Your pet needs to be seen by your veterinarian at least once a year, maybe every 6 months even, depending on their health status.  You may be able to find a lump on your dog but there is more that could possibly be seen or detected by your veterinarian as well as determining normal versus abnormal.  An exam is a start and some tests can be done whether simple or more complex.

My friend Dr. Sue Ettinger, DACVIM (yes, animal cancer specialist!) has created a program with a simple mantra – See Something, Do Something.  This is an easy way to remember that if you see a lump, larger than a pea and there for more than a month, it’s time to get it checked out!  A simple needle aspiration can save a life.

Cancer is not a death sentence.  There are so many options out there and animals don’t experience the same side effects of chemo that people do.  Surgery might be curative. Even if you’re not apt to go these routes, we can still help you palliate and keep your pet comfortable.  One of the most important aspects of this is not waiting too long. Lumps start small and then they may grow.  When these lumps grow, they become harder to treat, less chance for a successful outcome, and more expensive.  Act sooner rather than later to give your pet the best chance.

Even though we might only focus on this for a month, there is always time to be aware of potential cancer problems with your pets.  You are your pet’s biggest advocate and your veterinarian is there to help.  We can’t do it alone though so heed this advice and make sure if you have concerns to bring them up to your vet as soon as you think there’s a problem.

Disclaimer: Blog posts may contain some opinions which are my own and may not reflect those of any current or former employers. 

Don’t forget to follow along on Instagram @drryanllera , Facebook , or  Twitter for more pet info and interesting daily happenings!

Tell Me Your Pet’s Secrets

pet historyBeing a veterinarian is a very fun and rewarding career, but it’s also immensely challenging.  The only other job that might come close is being a pediatrician.  Face it, our patients can’t talk…unless we’re watching the Eddie Murphy remake of “Dr. Doolittle” (which was quite enjoyable I might add).  Being completely honest, your pet has secrets and you are the secret keeper.  No, I don’t mean what Rover really thinks of your new party outfit; but rather the all important pet history taking that starts every vet visit.

The best doctor in the world is the veterinarian.  He can’t ask his patients what is the matter-he’s got to just know.” – Will Rogers

Okay, so there’s some truth to this quote.  We can’t ask our patients what the problem is (and I know some pretty awesome veterinary doctors).  The false part is that we’ve “got to just know.”  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that.  This is where you come in and why veterinary medicine is a team effort.

A Costly Secret

When we ask you questions at the beginning of the appointment, these details may be quite pertinent to figuring out what the problem is that is plaguing your pet.  There was once a dog I saw that came in for being unable to walk and had some progressive weakness in it’s legs.  It was a young Rottweiler that the owners had assured me had gotten into nothing and had not suffered any trauma.  It was still quite a mystery even after a thorough physical exam.  Her owners authorized some radiographs & blood tests and left her at the hospital for the tests and supportive care.  A few hours later when I called for an update and to go over the results, the owners informed me they had used pure tea tree oil to address a flea problem.  Diagnosis: tea tree oil toxicity which can cause a temporary paralysis type syndrome.  Had this been known earlier, she could have been treated more promptly and for less cost.  No worries though, she recovered and was back to normal within a few days.

Honesty Leads to Success

When you call the hospital before coming in, it allows us to get prepared for taking care of your pet.  But we can only be as ready as the information given to us is complete.  One of the craziest toxicity cases I’ve ever seen involved a dog who had gotten into his owner’s medications…all 9 of them!  How would we know what to treat first without knowing everything involved?  That little dog did fine too especially since his owner admitted to some narcotics in the house.

pet historyBe up front with us.  Be honest.  Veterinarians don’t make a habit or policy of calling the cops on you or telling everyone they know about your pet and their antics.  Don’t be afraid or ashamed to tell us the truth about what might be going on with your pet.  The more information you can give us, the better.  We won’t judge.  So don’t hold back; tell me your pet’s secrets.

Disclaimer: Blog posts may contain some opinions which are my own and may not reflect those of any current or former employers. 

Don’t forget to follow along on Instagram @drryanllera , Facebook , or  Twitter for more pet info and interesting daily happenings!

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